Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Once upon a time, I worked full time as a magazine journalist, covering the interesting people and places across Tennessee, especially in the rural areas. I still do freelance work for the magazine, and recently I did a feature on the new interpretive center at the Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tennessee, a very small town north of Memphis. Haley is most famous for the novel Roots, on which the ground-breaking 1977 TV miniseries was based. Haley is responsible for getting a lot of people, especially African-Americans, interested in genealogy and their family histories.

A few years ago, I started working on my genealogy and found out a few things I'd not known before. My mother's paternal side came from Germany before the Revolutionary War and took part in that conflict, and I believe I could technically qualify to join the Daughters of the American Revolution if I so chose. I know the man and his son who came from Germany came into Pennsylvania then moved to North Carolina, where they were living at the time of the Revolution. The family eventually migrated to what is now Roane County, Tennessee and then on to Western Kentucky, where I grew up. Each Memorial Day when I take my mom around on what I jokingly call the Annual Tour of Cemeteries, one of the ones we stop at holds the graves of some of those early ancestors who migrated to Kentucky. Unfortunately, some of their grave stones are probably either lost in the forest or so worn down that you can't read anything that might have been etched in the stone.

Now, my dad's side, that's a different story. I haven't managed to get back very far, and I stowed all my genealogy work away in a plastic tub several years ago. But the new program Who Do You Think You Are? sponsored by Ancestry.com, which helps celebrities trace their family histories, has me itching to give it another go. I know that's their plan, to get you interested so that you fork over the money to join Ancestry.com, but it's working. There are things I can find out through public records and through the genealogy materials offered by the Latter Day Saints church, but I think I might join Ancestry.com soon, at least for a few months to see what they have available. I want to know where my paternal line, my birth surname, hails from. My dad hasn't a clue. He didn't even ever know his grandparents because they died before he was born. His dad was 50 when my dad was born, so he died when I was only 5 and I never had a chance to talk to him about his family's history. I wonder if his father or grandfather might have fought in the Civil War though because my grandpa was born in 1889. While many people my age still have their grandparents, my grandpa would be 122 this year. My other grandparents died when I was 10, 15 and 24, all before I got interested in family history, sadly.

It's less the names and dates I'm interested in than the human stories and the connections to other countries. Before my ancestors set their feet on America's shores, where did they call home? What did they do for a living? I'm guessing some good peasant stock, but that's okay. But it would be great to come across a surprise like Tim McGraw did in last week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? He's always been a fan of George Washington, so it was an awesome moment when he was allowed to see a journal kept by a 16-year-old Washington when he was surveying in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and mentioned staying at the home of McGraw's ancestors.

So after I meet a couple of deadlines, I'm going to drag out those old materials and start organizing them and getting copies of official documents to back up some of the information I found on online forums. Hopefully this time I'll be able to trace my paternal roots back to their country of origin, just like Alex Haley did when he followed the branches of his family tree all the way back to Gambia.

Do you enjoy genealogy? Do you know where your family hails from? Any interesting family history tidbits you'd like to share? And if you have tips about effective genealogy research, please share those too.

Prize time! Family is an important aspect of the continuity series (Codys: First Family of Rodeo) I was in last year with five other authors. One commenter today will receive a copy of my October 2010 release, Elly: Cowgirl Bride. That's in addition to our daily Go Red pin for the lucky winner.

The healthy heart tip for today is: Still seeing hearts even after Valentine's Day? You've seen hearts all month long; now look for a slightly different heart icon at the grocery store. Select products with the Heart-Check Mark. These items are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Sign up for the Go Red Better U Program and receive two free romance e-books.

From Feb 1 through May 31, 2011, receive one free romance e-book when you sign up for the American Heart Association's Better U Program and one after you complete week six of the program. And look for the Eat Smart for Your Heart limited edition magazine (that features this offer) on newstands and in a grocery store near you.

Go Red for Women is trademarked by the American Heart Association, Inc. Romance novel downloads provided by Belle Books.


barb said...

looks like he might be coming to me

barb said...

Good blog Trish

Well GR will have a change of scenery today ... I am sitting in my brothers lounge room overlooking the beach.... the weather is cloudy but at least it is not raining...
I love watching who do you think you are .... we have the Aussie one plus the UK and US one.... my other brother has been going back in the family tree and has gone back a few generations but so far nobody famous LOL

Jane said...

I really enjoyed PBS' Faces of America and it was fun to see the family tree of Stephen Colbert and YoYo Ma. I don't really know much about my ancestors, but I do hope to do a little digging and find out more about them.

BJ said...

Congrats...Barb :0)
I'm actually a member of ancestry.com and I love it....it's a blast...lol
My paternal side is rather interesting....They were a big part of the Mormon Movement to Utah and are a BIG part of their History....Then I also Have a REALLY famous distant cousin....Francis Gumm (I'll leave you to guess her stage name). My mom's side you'd think would be the easy side...but heck no they're like the secret society.
My Husband's family is mostly all from the east coast all sea faring peeps.
Loads of fun!!!! Really addicting too!!!!

MsHellion said...

I know a little. I think the Colleys have always been a little wild; and the St. Clairs (the women) are the ones who tamed them. (I have to say the St. Clair boys were even wilder than the Colley boys. You know for the turn of the century and the Great Depression, these people managed to get up to a lot of trouble.)

Eventually if you trace it back to the 1680s, the first Colley came over to Virginia from Wales. The story is that he had to move here to escape the hangman's noose because he accidentally killed the town bully in a fistfight. I'm thinking he's my most famous relative. I don't think anyone rubbed elbows with George Washington or anything--though my Dad loves him too. *LOL*

Incidentally my grandpa is the same age as yours. *LOL* He died a couple months before I was born. He was the calmest of the Colley boys. Grandma--the St. Clair--told him upfront she would not put up with any typical Colley shenanigans...or drinking. So he was a good egg. Then again, I would never have wanted to cross grandma.

My great-great-grandpa was Adam Wirth Colley; and he fought in the Confederacy (I think all our folks have been small government from the beginning of time) and died in Arkansas in the war. He was married to a woman who was nicknamed Eve--Adam and Eve.

I like the fact that on my father's side that our family roots have basically been here since the founding of the country. I'm not sure about my mother's family (she died when I was too young to be interested in genealogy yet--and she didn't talk about her family a lot), but from the little my mother said, they hailed from England. And if my mother had her way, someone titled. Like the Queen.

Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha! My maternal relatives in England have traced our ancestry to Coldstream, Scotland. My paternal relatives in Mississippi have traced our ancestry back to the Civil War.

A friend introduced me to Ancestry.Com four years ago when I coordinated an old fashioned tea party for the Fort Meade Spouses' Club. For fun, I researched who was responsible for tea parties and learned it was Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford and Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria. She was simply hungry between lunch and dinner. Her grace invited a few friends for a snack and viola, a new trend!

My friend was able to connect the Duchess to General Meade, Civil War Hero and the post's namesake via the Pilgrims. So they were our "guests of honor" during the tea party which featured over 20 romance authors in the DC area.

Donna MacMeans said...

I sparked an interest to do a little family history digging when my children were born. Maybe that's a natural reaction to write down their history - but, of course, first you have to find it. My mother started collecting documents, but I never really put everything together until a few years ago, after my mother's death.

My mother's family came over from Ireland. My daughter has traced the names to the ships coming into Ellis Island. Both of my maternal grandparents passed away before I was old enough to speak to them. I haven't much information on their lives in Ireland or here.

My father's family, however, is really unique. I know the family of my paternal grandfather came to this country from Germany and settled in Wisconsin. However he was orphaned at an early age. His brother and he were taken into separate households during the depression. My grandfather went to a poor couple who wanted a child for labor. His brother went to a rich banker's family in Indiana. The mother of my grandfather's foster family decided she didn't want to keep him - he was too quiet and bookish. She wanted to take him back to the orphanage. The father said no - and divorced his wife but kept my grandfather. Years later, he met a woman with an adopted daughter of her own. The two married and eventually, my grandfather married the woman's daughter. It almost sounds incestuous but there's no blood connections. I know my grandmother had a sister who was a nun who was in China during the boxer rebellion. We've received letters from someone in Hollywood who traced his family to my grandmother's.

What's interesting is that my grandfather took his new father's last name while his brother refused to change his name to that of the banker's family. My impression is that the one in the rich family was never truly happy and got into a lot of trouble. Due to the adoptions, I run into many people with my maiden name, but there's no blood connection.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

GREAT post, Trish!

I saw that episode with Tim McGraw and LOVED IT!

Jane, I loved the PBS series and saw the one with Stephen Colbert tracing his family back to Ireland.

My son has become very interested in genealogy in the last year or so and has done a lot of digging on Ancestry and other websites. I just "assumed" our Irish relatives came during the Potato Famine in the 1840s but looks like I was WRONG! Looks like my mother's ancestors were some of the early settlers in Kentucky in the 1830s. Plus, my son has managed to trace our earliest McGary relative to North Carolina where he was born in 1807. So he hasn't found anyone in the Auld Sod yet, but he's still searching!

Hey BJ, I'll bet you were "Over the Rainbow" when you found out you were related to Frances. ;-)


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Forgot to say CONGRATS on the GR, Barb!

I'm sure you and Helen will be treating him to some tea later. And now, thanx to Kim, we know how the custom of tea got started!

I LOVE all the fun stuff we learn in the Lair.


Helen said...

Well done Barbara I do hope you are having fun up in Coffs see you on Thursday maybe John will cook something special for the GR


Tracing my family tree has always interested me and I used to ask my grandmother and great grandmother lots of questions when I was young, I only know what I have been told about my Mum's family but my Fathers side has been traced back to William the Conquerer and is on the internet I did get in touch with Mark (he lives in France) who got it all up and going and sent him information from our line of the family and I gotta say it is very interesting.
One day when I have more time I would love to set about doing my Mum's side so interesting.

Have Fun

Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Trish. I love the idea of knowing where your ancestors come from!

My father's side has always been a strange one, because everyone has different stories as to where our surname came from. A cousin actually has the information in a cool family tree - my maiden name came from an acronym of a respected Polish rabbi. What's interesting is that the name has been bastardised quite a lot over the years so it's hard to research all the variations.

The sad thing about the family tree is how many branches of the family were wiped out in the Holocaust.

My father's mother's family, also Jewish, came from Russia and settled in Wales. They adopted the name Samuel, so finding out their real names will be hard. I believe my great-grandparents actually met and married on the boat over to Wales.

On my mother's side, it's better known, though no less difficult to research because they're all Persian! (Yes, I'm the daughter of a Moslem and a Jew!). My great-grandfather was an ambassador and there are strong connections (though I don't believe any blood ties) to the Shah.

Anita Clenney said...

I'm fascinated by geneology, but unfortunately don't know a lot about my family history. I keep meaning to do research, but I'm so busy with deadlines that I haven't done it yet. The most I know is about the Cherokee side of my father's family. I really must take time to research this.

Anita Clenney said...
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Susan Sey said...

Good morning, Trish! I keep seeing advertisements for that Who Do You Think You Are show & it looks so intriguing! I'd love to say I'm into genealogy & know my family's history but in our family it's my husband who's into that.

Well, not into it for history's sake--more for technology's sake. See, ever since cameras went digital, they moved (for my husband,anyway) under the umbrella of All Things Technical. Which means he is now the picture taker & historian in our family. He doesn't scrapbook, of course, but after a family vacay he's the one who organizes the photos & puts them into a montage set to music & publishes it on Facebook.

So when it came time to digitize the family photos, he was the one asking questions of our elders, digging up stories, etc. It was really cool, & now I'd love the chance to do it for my side of the family.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Congrats on nabbing that rascally bird, Barb. If he's sitting there looking out at the beach, I'm jealous.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Jane, I haven't seen that program. Sounds interesting though.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Wow, BJ. Judy Garland, huh? That's really cool.

And thanks for mentioning you really like Ancestry.com.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

MsHellion, what an interesting family history. See, it's those kind of stories I'd like to discover.

Kirsten said...
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Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Kim, how interesting about the origin of tea parties. Had to laugh about the duchess just being hungry between lunch and dinner. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Donna, wow, that's a wild story about your grandfather and his brother. I see these stories of siblings being split up because of finances and it's heartbreaking.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Cindy, I have some Irish ancestry too (Shahan), but that line came over long before the potato famine too.

What part of Kentucky did your relatives settle in?

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Helen, wow on being connected to William the Conqueror.

I know lots of people do genealogy with the hope of finding someone famous, but can you imagine if it was actually an ancestor who was infamous, like Jack the Ripper or someone? Eek!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna, I find your family history so fascinating. But that's so incredibly sad about the lines being lost during the Holocaust. I still find it so hard to believe how something so horrific was allowed to happened.

And I know what you mean about names changing and lack of records. Plus, it seems there were only a handful of names at one point and they just picked them out of a hat. Oh, the Johns and Marys.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anita, it is hard to find time to do the family history work with everything else that needs to get done. It's been my experience that I get so involved that hours go by and I've done nothing else that needs to be done. I guess I need to set a timer. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anita, also meant to say that my husband has Cherokee roots too. He's 1/16 because his great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Susan, that's cool that your husband does all that documentation of your trips and such. Oh, if only the people who came over on the boats had had blogs and digital cameras. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Kirsten, you can start by just putting down the information you know yourself -- names and dates for you and your parents. Look up the birth and marriage certificates for your parents, and then those will often give information about their parents, and so on. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle and hide-and-seek all rolled into one.

Joan said...

Trish, I LOVE that show! And yup, designed to garner clients for Ancestery.com. I started to but right now..cost prohibitive.

My brother has done some research. Discovered my mother's family was of Irish ancestory and migrated from MD in the frontier days to Springfield KY as part of a Catholic missionary type society. Superficially, it appears that an ancestor originated in Co.Cork.

My father had a cousin Minnie May who supposedly researched some stuff. Ancedotely only, we are related to some lesser nobility in England AND the Warner Bros. of Hollywood fame.

Some day will pay out the bucks and delve into it more....cause I'm SURE I'm a long lost Irish princess :D

Deb said...

I know quite a bit about my paternal side of the family since my grandfather immigrated from Denmark. But, until the mid-1870s, good records weren't kept and with last names changing every generation, it was hard to keep track of who's who. My mother's side is Swedish, but we don't know much about those family members. I also have an Indian g-g-g-grandmother whose name was Amy Fleetfoot.

My husband's paternal side of the family can be traced back to 1500s Scotland.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Joan, interesting stuff there. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to hire a professional genealogist to do a lot of research and then take a trip to wherever the ancestors are from?

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Deb, wow on your husband being able to trace back that far. That's amazing.

catslady said...

My husband's uncle on his father's side has been doing genealogy for a very long time. He is retired now and spends every day working on it. He goes to cemetaries and even was dna tested. He has traced it back to at least the 1600's and it's quite amazing. I know some distant relatives did one on my father's side and also went back quite a bit. We were to get a copy but never did unfortunately and now that my dad has passed we have lost all contact. I did hear that there was some royalty (Italy) a very long time ago. Wish I knew more.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

catslady, that's great that your husband has so much time to devote to the research.

I've often wondered about the DNA research.

jo robertson said...

Interesting post, Trish!

Barb, maybe you should get the chook searching HIS roots LOL.

My family has always been very interested in genealogy work and I started my own process when I was fifteen. Sadly, I had seven children and got sidetracked. Now my sister is the go-to genealogist in our family and she's traced our ancestry on both side back to the revolution (some) and immigration (others).

Like you, Trish, I love the stories. They make our families seem so real to us.

jo robertson said...

Oh, I meant to say that one of the ways we can keep our stories alive for our descendants is by keeping a journal.

With the current happenings in Egypt, I remembered that I'd kept a journal during the 80's and looked up the entry for the day Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

I wrote about what a tragic loss that was for the middle eastern world. I remember crying because at the time, Sadat seemed the only sane voice in a crazy middle eastern world.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Trish and Joanie (and anyone else with roots in Kentucky), my grandfather was born and raised in Barberville. I understand it is near the Cumberland Gap. Can't believe I've never been there. :-0 I probably still have some cousins in the area.

I'm envious of all of you who have been able to trace your family back several hundred years. And Helen, William the Conqueror?!?! WOW! One of my ex's aunts traced their line back to Anne Boelyn so my son has some pretty infamous ancestors on his Dad's side!


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Jo, good idea about the journaling.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Cindy, Barbourville is pretty close to Cumberland Gap over in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. It's on the edge of coal country. I grew up in the western part of the state which is more corn and soybean farms and river bottoms along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Barb, you get our feathered friend today. I hope he's behaving. Actually I want to talk to him about how he handles all this jet lag! Or do roosters only fly first class?

Anna Campbell said...

Trish, I haven't seen the American edition of Who Do You Think You Are? I'm a great fan of the original UK version and there was an Aussie version which was also really interesting. I'm assuming we'll get it on cable - sounds like an obvious show for us to see.

Actually I was watching an interview with Marina Lewicka of Ukrainian Tractors fame yesterday and she said she was terrifically nosy and always asked people where they were from. I'm afraid I'm terrifically nosy too! Always want to know where people have started out - and if they can give me a quick genealogical rundown at the same time, I'm a pig in mud. I think it's part of the fascination with history that I've always had.

And how cool that your family has been in the US for SOOOO long! What amazing stories those original settlers would have to tell!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Anna, it is endlessly fascinating. I had no idea until today when comments started coming in that there were UK and Australian versions of Who Do You Think You Are?

Beth Andrews said...

Hey, Trish! I think I saw an older episode of Who Do You Think You Are? with Brooke Shields. It was really interesting. I can see how a show like that could become addicting to me *g*

My MIL has the family histories of both sides of my husband's family and my aunt has done my mother's side, but I don't know if anyone has researched my father's. I'm sure it'd be fun to do though :-)

Anna Campbell said...

Actually, Trish, I have a REAL soft spot for the UK version just because the range of people is so interesting. That multi gold meal-winning Olympic rower whose name escapes me (he's won about four Olympics in a row) turned out to be related to King Edward I, Braveheart's nemesis. And the one about David Suchet who plays Poirot so beautifully was absolutely riveting. Lots of wonderful stuff - and some amazing social history!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Beth, the one with Brooke Shields was from the first season last year.

Anna, I love the variety of individuals they get and their different backgrounds. This season, the celebrities include Tim McGraw, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rosie O'Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Vanessa Williams, and Ashley Judd. I'm looking forward to Ashley's since she's a Kentucky gal too.

Leni said...

Researching my genealogy isn't really high up on my list of things to do. It makes for great stories, but I don't have a desire to explore it.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Leni, it's not for everyone. While I find it interesting, there are also times when it's extremely frustrating, when you run into seeming brick walls in the research.

Nancy said...

Barb, have fun with the GR!

Nancy said...

Trish, I'm also curious as to where my family came from and why. My dad's father came here as a child in 1859 from Devonshire and settled in the Midwest. As an adult, he moved on to the Phillippines, where my dad was born (to his father's much, much younger bride, as part of his father's third (yes, third!) family.

My mother's people, as we say around here, are from the Carolinas and have been here since before the American Revolution. I'm eligible for Daughters of the American Revolution and United Daughters of the Confederacy membership, did I choose to claim them.

I've always thought it was interesting that my grandfather on that side, born in 1882, just 17 years after the Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression as the South Carolinians bold-facedly term it, Ft. Sumter notwithstanding) had the middle name Lee.

On that side, we're Scots-Irish, descended from Clan MacQueen, and we supposedly connect back to Robert the Bruce via that line. One of my cousins has done a lot of genealogy research, and he says this is actually true.

I don't know why either side of the family came here, or where they came ashore, or what they did when they first arrived, though, and I'd like to.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Nancy, another interesting historical connection with Robert the Bruce.

Joan said...

Aunty Cindy,

My mother's family lands right smack in the middle of yours and Trish's.

Springfield is centrally located near Bardstown of "My Old Kentucky Home" fame.

It is situated in an area that historically has been called Kentucky's "Holy Land" due, I'm sure, to the heavy Catholic roots. (Bardstown has the first cathedral built west of the Cumberland)

It is rift with OLD Catholic churches and is home to a famous Trappist Monestary ala Thomas Merton the theologian....and cheese :D The country there is GORGEOUS and VERY reminiscent of Ireland.

Louisa Cornell said...

Barb, perhaps you can trace the GR's ancestry? I am certain there is a peacock in there somewhere!

Neat stuff, Trish. I have been dancing with joining Ancestry.com for a while now. My father was three quarters Welsh and one quarter English and both sides of his family came to the States in the early 1890's. I am having a bit of trouble tracing past that point. I do know that the parents of the Bolton who came to the States as a boy were married in Wales. He was English, she was Welsh and the marriage was witnessed by two men with the same last name as her. I do know that at some point in my childhood someone from England contacted my Dad's mother in search of my grandfather's heirs as they were in line to inherit some sort of estate. She looked into it and when they started talking about taxes and death duties she assumed it was a scam and threw all of the papers away!!!

My Mom's family is listed on the Cherokee removal roles and on the tribal listings of the Poarch Creek Indians. Once we get past the Trail of Tears it is very difficult to find any records. Doesn't mean I wouldn't want to try!

I do know that my maternal grandmother was raised by her uncle and his wife. That uncle was one of the first full-blooded Native Americans to be a licensed physician in the state of Alabama. I'm very proud of that!

Tracey Devlyn said...

Great post, Trish! Several years ago, I picked my mom's brain about her side of the family and was able to trace back 5 generations in southern Illinois. I wrote it all down fully intending to dig deeper.

Then life happened and I never followed through. My mom passed away last October and now, after moving, I can't find the family tree she helped me with.

I'll find the information one day, and then I'll start the search for my ancestors. I'm insanely curious about them. :)

Becke Davis said...

Hi Trish - and here I thought Jeanne was the genealogist of the Banditas!

I'm a genealogy geek myself, and I find it fascinating to trace back my family history. It's given me a whole different outlook on history in general, especially when you find your ancestors were part of famous events!

Beth Watson said...

I'm addicted to ancestry.com. I've been tracing 8 Irish lines on both parents sides and a Scottish line. Have traced two lines forward and visited rellies living in Ireland last september. I'm going back again this year to meet more. I love geneaology research but beware Trish, it's addictive! I'm sometimes up till 3am on ancestry.com!

Good luck with your research!

Gannon Carr said...

Trish, I became obsessed with tracing my genealogy several months ago. I use Ancestry.com, and it has been a valuable resource for info I never would have tracked down without hiring an expert.

One of the fun things I discovered---and no one in my family had a clue about---was through my mom's side. Some of my ancestors came from Switzerland just prior to the Revolutionary War and they later fought. Like you, Trish, I could go the DAR route if I so choose.

I'm trying to track down more info about my dad's father---so much we don't know, but finding out is part of the fun.